Blake Lively Tells Great White Shark Tales

06/16/2011 at 04:20 PM EDT

Blake Lively Tells Great White Shark Tales
Kevin Winter/Tonight Show/Getty
How does Blake Lively face her greatest fears?

By looking them square in the face – while safe behind the bars of a cage.

The actress told Jay Leno that she went shark diving while on location for The Green Lantern in South Africa.

"On the plane, I was hearing these flight attendants talk about shark diving. They said, 'You can go cage diving with great white sharks,' and I'm terrified of sharks," Lively said. "So, I said, 'That sounds like a horrible idea – let's do it!'"

The actress described the experience, which she called both "so amazing" and "terrifying," as the kind of event that wouldn't be desirable for anyone.

"They throw blood into the water, and they throw fish guts," Lively said. "So you're standing on a boat and you're trying to lure in sharks, and then you see great white sharks circling your boat – and that's a good thing. Everything you never want to happen is happening."

And yet, the experience turned out to be transformative for the actress.

"It was scary, but it was also a really beautiful thing, because you realize when you look at your fears in the eyes, they didn't want to bite me," she said. "They're just as afraid of us as we are of them."

The dive also had a teaching moment for Lively, who learned that great white sharks are nearly extinct due to commercial interest in harvesting their parts.

"There's less than a thousand of them," she said. "They cut off their fins and then they throw them back into the ocean so they just drown. It's a horrible thing that's happening."

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